October 15, 2009

Confirmation Bias

While on my mission in Southern Germany, I was juggling dozens of responsibilities as well as dealing with the stresses of being away from home, living with a person from a very different culture, and so on. At this same time, I was very concerned about a young woman back home. She had earlier told me that she felt we were meant to be together, which I also believed at the time very deeply. However, as anyone would in that situation, I worried very much about opening up a letter from her one day to find that she had met someone far better than I (and I knew there were plenty of opportunities).

In my wrestle between trying to stay focused on my tasks at hand and trying to find comfort and reassurance over the young woman's intentions, I constantly prayed to feel peace over the matter. I remember multiple times receiving a very strong emotional confirmation that she and I would be together, and that things would turn out fine with her.

As the reader may have guessed, things did not turn out well at all. Upon returning home, I was hit with the worst emotional bombshell of my life, and then the suffering about the relationship was drawn out for several months thereafter as she varied between warm and cold.

So how do I explain my prayerful confirmations that things would be alright? Of course, true believers will argue that the confirmations were that things would eventually turn out alright. I would eventually be able to get over the pain, etc. It is clear to me now, however, that those confirmations were not from God at all, but from somewhere within me. I asked if things would be okay with this young woman, and I wanted so badly to receive the answer I wanted that that is exactly what I got: the answer I wanted.

I wonder if I had asked the question while being willing to accept an answer of "She's just messing with you", that maybe I would have received such an answer: whether it was my own mind putting the clues together, or God actually communicating with me.

My point is that when a person asks a question, but is not willing to receive an answer unless it's the one he expects, it probably doesn't matter what the real answer is. He'll just go on believing what he wants.

Similarly, I find that the LDS church refuses to take "no" as an answer, or even no answer as an answer. Their advice is to keep asking until you get a "yes", or to act as if you have a "yes" and eventually you will get one (quotes and discussion).

And so, in the end, it doesn't really matter what the right answer is.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I could agree with this post more. You wanted the Church to be false, God not to exist, and surprise: that's the exact answer you got.
PS: Sorry to hear you totally wasted two years of your life. You could have gone to Germany for cheaper, and with waaaay less hassle.

Eli said...

Response to Anonymous: I'm curious why you feel I would want the Church to be false, or God not to exist. If you've read any of my previous posts, I've made it clear that I spent at least the first 19 years of my life trying to deny my conscience and make the Church true. In the end, my conscience won out. Please read those posts before making assumptions. If you feel my reasoning is flawed, I invite you to give me stronger evidence that the Church is true.